Since the end of the Malthusian era, science-based technological growth has been the source of almost all long-term economic growth. However, we also know that it didn’t accrue in all regions evenly. For instance, Charles Murray in Human Accomplishment showed that the vast majority of “eminent” figures in science and the arts hailed from Europe, especially its central “core”. Areas that saw high intensities of researchers centuries ago tend to remain at the forefront of world economic success to the present day.
Despite the hype around Moore’s Law, there is mounting and disquieting evidence that technological growth is slowing down. It takes more and more researchers to get similar rates of innovation. The price of chip fabs double with every new quadrupling in chip density (Rock’s Law). At the most fundamental level, problems tend to get harder – not easier – as one climbs up the technological ladder (see my article Apollo’s Ascent). Meanwhile, the epochal increases in literacy, population, and average IQ in the past two centuries that have increased the human capital available to our civilization by several orders of magnitude are now petering out.
Given these mounting constraints on the future expansion of technological civilization, I would submit that it is now especially important to acquire a good understanding of where elite science currently comes from.
The Nature Index
What can we use as a proxy? Nobel Prizes in the sciences lag real world accomplishments by 20-30 years. Measures of individual eminence, such as Pantheon, only become crisp in long-term retrospect, and moreover, the Human Accomplishment database only runs to 1950. Total number of articles published, patents granted, R&D personnel, or R&D spending don’t adjust for quality. University rankings may be biased due to reputational and “brand” name factors, such as the worldwide prestige enjoyed by Oxbridge and the Ivy League. What can we then use instead?
The Nature Index (natureindex.com) bypasses almost all of these problems. This index measures the amount of publications in the 82 most prestigious scientific journals in the natural sciences. While they account for less than 1% of natural science journals in the Web of Science database, they produce almost 30% of all citations in this sphere. Every year, every research institution and country that contributed to these journals gets a score on the Nature Index measuring its research output (there is also a “running total” for the past year that covers Dec 2017-Nov 2018 as of the time of writing). This makes the Nature Index an ideal source of crisp, up-to-date, quantitative data on the production of elite level science.
There are two versions of this index: AC (article count) and FC (fractional count). In the former, every author’s institute and country gets a uniform score regardless of the number of coauthors. In the latter, every accepted article gets one point, which is divided equally between its co-authors’ institutions and countries. It would appear that FC would be the better measure of the true level of elite science production, while AC would be a better measure of involvement in international scientific collaboration.
So where do the “Science Points” in our run of the Civilization game get generated?
This table shows each country’s global share of the FC, that share’s annual growth rate from 2012-2018, and per capita performance relative to the USA (=100).
Note that data for FC2018 is based on Dec 2017-Nov 2018, since the final data for the year is not available yet.
The immediate thing that strikes one is the sheer extent to which global science production is lopsided in favor of the developed world.
World map of elite science production per capita (USA=100%), based on Nature Index 2018 (FC 2017 – that is, fractional count for the year 2017).
In per capita terms, the US plus “core Europe” (Switzerland is single best performer) dominate, while developed East Asia & the Mediterranean are twice lower. China and Eastern Europe are 3-4 times lower in turn, while the Third World is negligible.
In absolute terms, there is an emerging triarchy dominated by the US (33% of global elite science production), the EU (27%, of which just ~1% accrues to the new members), and China (18%).
Those three blocs accounting for almost 80% of global science production. Almost all of the rest accrues to other developed countries, such as Japan, Switzerland (its 8.5 million people account for 2.3% of elite science production – marginally more so than South Korea’s 52 million!), and the various Anglo (Australia, Canada, New Zealand) and Sino (Taiwan, Singapore) territories. India accounts for just 1.7%, Russia and the V4 – about 0.8% each; Brazil – 0.5%.
About 68% of world elite science production (76% in 2012) accrues to what we might term “the West” (the “Five Eyes” Anglosphere, the EU-28, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Israel). Another 27% (20% in 2012) accrues to East Asia (the Sinosphere, Japan, the Koreas, and Vietnam); the Sinosphere itself (China, Taiwan, Singapore) accounts for 20% of it, up from 11%. In total, the global demographic that John Derbyshire refers to as “ice people” – high IQ northerners, i.e. “Greater Europe” (the West, f.USSR, and non-EU Balkans) and East Asia – account for an astounding 96.2% of global elite science production. Moreover, even as the balance within the “ice people” shifted from the West to East Asia during the past half decade, their overall share of elite science production has remained almost perfectly constant (96.4% in 2012).
The remainder is accounted for by India (1.6%; up from 1.5% in 2012); East-Central Europe (~1.1% up from 1.0%); Latin America (~1.1%; up from ~0.9%); Russia (0.75%; up from 0.59%); Dar Al-Islam (~0.70%; up from ~0.42%); Sub-Saharan Africa (0.20%; up from ~0.11%).
NOTE: Data for lower ranked countries (not in Top 50) is not available for 2012-2014, so the above figures will slightly overstate the improvements within blocs containing many such countries, e.g. Dar Al-Islam and Africa. This is not going to make any significant difference to global patterns, as the Top 50 countries consistently account for >99.5% of world elite science production.
Within the developed countries, the EU and the US have both lost their share of global scientific production at an annual rate of ~2% since 2012. However, there are marked national differences. The Mediterranean (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece), France, and Japan have all collapsed at 3-5% per annum; meanwhile, Switzerland and the UK have almost tread water, while the Scandinavians and Australians outright increased their shares by ~1% and ~2.5% per annum, respectively. The Med’s underperformance relative to Northern Europe may be linked to brain drain,
The Visegrad countries increased their share at a modest 2.5% per annum (modest because they should be at least the level of the Mediterranean). However, there are major differences between them. Starting off at 0.23% and 0.16% of world elite science production, respectively, Czechia increased its share to 0.32% by 2018, versus a decline to 0.13% in Hungary. Orban has not been good for Hungarian science. Poland was middling between the two, increasing from 0.35% to 0.38% of world elite science production.
As mentioned above, Russia increased its share from 0.59% to 0.75% from 2012-2018, translating into 4% annual increases (although coming from the collapsed post-Soviet base). While Russia is a minnow on the global stage, it has nonetheless consistently produced 90% of elite science in the former Soviet space. The Ukraine collapsed from 0.07% to 0.03% during this same period, translating to an annual declnie of 10% every year; together with Taiwan, this is the worst performance of any country in the Top 50. The only other countries of note are in the Baltics, which have collectively increased their share from 0.03% to 0.05%.
China has seen blistering growth rate of 13% per annum (!), overtaking Poland in per capita terms. In the process, it has gone from 24% to 56% of US absolute performance from 2012-2018 while doubling its share of global elite science production from 9% to 18%. China’s share of the Sinosphere has soared from 81% in 2012 to 92% by 2018. In the meantime, Taiwan saw the biggest collapse of any major scientific country, with its share of global production falling by 10% annually between 2012-18. I have speculated that this may be a direct result of China’s “31 Steps for Taiwan” strategy to drain the renegade island of human capital.
South Korea lost its share at a rate of 1% per annum, suggesting that it had already fully converged to its potential c.2010.
It is worth noting that some 0.14% (up from 0.11% in 2012) points of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 0.20% share of world elite science production accrues to the Republic of South Africa. Consequently, “Black Africa” north of the RSA produces just 0.05% of world elite science production. This means that tiny Switzerland produces ~50 times more elite science than all of Black Africa, despite having just 1% of its population size; the average Swiss is 5,000 more scientifically productive than the average Sub-Saharan African.
IQ and the Noosphere
What explains the regional patterns above! You guessed it!
* Karlin, Anatoly, and Andrey Grigoriev. 2019. “Модель факторов инновационной эффективности страны.” Siberian Psychology Journal. [PDF] [in Russian]
We found explained variance of 40% between national IQ and research output when fitted with a quadratic function, which increased to 54% when we adjusted for the impact of a socialist legacy in the past or present, and this socialist legacy’s interaction with IQ. GDP per capita was not found to predict science production above that predicted by average IQ, while IQ did account for 7% points above what just GDP pre capita explained. National IQ was likewise found to be explain more of the variance in science production than personality factors.
Scientific production (per capita) is generally imperceptible within countries with an average IQ lower than 90, and largely insignificant in countries with an average IQ lower than 95.
There appears to be an order of magnitude increase in per capita elite science production for every 10 point gain in national average IQ.
The Future of the Noosphere
As we have established, only a small subset of high-IQ capitalist countries hosting most of the world’s “smart fractions” are responsible for 95%+ of elite science production. This would not be a surprise to HBD/IQ realistists. However, it doesn’t hurt to underline an important implication: If “ice people” were to vanish, world science production would, very likely, come to a complete standstill. And then we get the Age of Malthusian Industrialism.
It is true that many countries are performing below potential. In particular, on the basis of national IQs, I expect the countries of the former socialist bloc – Visegrad, Balts, and ex-USSR – to converge to at least Mediterranean levels (Czechia is already there). This presumes a further doubling in Poland’s performance, and a quadrupling in Russia’s (at least so long as funding is forthcoming). However, the limited demographic weight of these regions will make their impact largely irrelevant on the global level, even should they converge to US/core Europe levels.
While Chinese science production will eventually dominate the world – just as it will economically, and probably militarily – I would caution against an excess of Sinotriumph. Despite their high average IQs, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have all ended up converging at the level of the Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain. Now China tends to lag South Korean development by a remarkably constant 20 years; extending this into the future against South Korea’s “scientific convergence” data of ~2010 suggests that Chinese science production will max out relative to the US within another decade by ~2030. If that asymptote is somewhere around that of Korea and Taiwan – which generate 41% and 30% of US per capita elite science production, respectively – then total elite Chinese scientific output will not exceed the American figures by much more than 50%. Consequently, at this point, we may only reasonably expect for China to add another America’s worth of elite science production to the world before it stabilizes (as opposed to 3-4 Americas’ worth if its science generation was a straightforward function of average IQ).
There are no good grounds to believe that other regions of the world will become scientific powerhouses anytime soon.
The only partial exception may be India, which has a Brahmin smart fraction that is equivalent in absolute size to the population of a large European country. However, one should not expect miracles. Despite vigorous economic development in the past half decade, India’s share of global science production has barely budged.
The only significant upwards exception to the IQ-science production correlation is Saudi Arabia, which produces a modest amount of elite science – almost all of it at KAUST, a lavishly funded institution whose overwhelmingly Western professors were poached with oil money.
Consequently, the prospects for radically increasing world elite science production without machine superintelligence or genomic IQ augmentation seem rather limited.
This will mainly come from more efficient utilization of Chinese & East European talent, which can be expected to converge to Med levels but probably no further. In the meantime, dysgenic fertility trends will continue, even as the Flynn Effect completely peters out as almost the entire world gets access to sufficient schooling, adequate nutrition and healthcare, and near optimal institutions. And – needless to say – the problems that need to be solved for further progress to occur will tend to get harder and harder.
However, there’s also good news – the possibility of science production collapse due to demographic change may not be as serious as some HBD realists and/or immigration restrictionists tend to believe. While massive Third World immigration may lower average IQs, the native smart fractions are still preserved; and it is the quantity of these smart fractions, not average IQ per se, that plays a much greater role in economic prosperity and scientific productivity. Scandinavia remains on the ascent, memes about “Sweden Yes” regardless. Repeated SJW censorship scandals regardless – from dismissing a respected academic for making a light-hearted joke about women to the recent hounding of Noah Carl out of a fellowship at Cambridge University – the United Kingdom continues to do rather well. Despite the continuing depletion of its European population, South Africa – perhaps the most extreme case of “population replacement” – actually increased its share of global elite science production between 2012 and 2018. Meanwhile, it has fallen in Orban’s Hungary, despite its as of yet significant unexploited human potential.
Diversity may be a long-term risk to scientific production, but anti-intellectual populism is a much more immediate one. Recent news of Brazil’s Bolsonaro slashing university funding by 30% will soon provide us with another test case.